Native American Missions

Some of our church members who were not able to go on foreign mission trips because of their visa statuses started a Native American mission trip last year. Many young people who didn’t have enough time or money for an overseas trip also got involved. On Sunday, this year’s mission team gave a special music presentation during the worship services. About 40 young people and some mothers (who are accompanying them to cook for the team) sang on stage. Their presentation moved me to tears.

A missionary who has long been involved in Native American missions recently sent me a newsletter that examined two Native American missions efforts, one a failure, the other a success.

We may learn something from this story, so let me quote parts of it here (I’ve made the names of the churches and pastors anonymous for privacy reasons):

In 2007, S Church from Southern California sent 700 people on Native American Missions. It was successful in terms of numbers, but the Native American residents gave them an “F” grade. They sang worship songs loudly, presented a variety of programs, prayed passionately with tears and spent a lot of money, yet the result was judged a failure.

Pastor H, the mission team leader, pointed to “ignorance” as the main reason it failed. Their approach was superficial, without any missiological, cultural, or anthropological preparation and without historical repentance and self-examination. Pastor H concluded that passion, money, and large teams are not sufficient for missions to be successful.

In contrast, Pastor K, a 1.5 generation Korean-American, led what was seen as a successful mission effort. Starting in 1993 and continuing for many years, Pastor K visited the Oglala Lokota tribe in the region of Wounded Knee with young people from his church. From the beginning, his attitude wasn’t “I will help you,” but “I need you to teach me.” Based on this mindset, he started building relationships with the residents.

By maintaining an attitude of learning and receiving, he was able to build trust among the people. He typically waited many days without doing anything, until the Native Americans requested their assistance to hold up the leadership and guide them. He also diligently learned their culture and history. In the end, he was able to set an example of a missions program centered on Native Americans’ own leadership.

Based on the response of the missionaries we visited, we believe that our summer mission trips have been successful and fruitful. One reason for our success may be that our goal has been to help missionaries and their ministries rather than pushing our own missions agenda.

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